New worries after DurbanColumn by Professor Ilkka Savolainen*
|The agreement reached at the Durban climate negotiations in late 2011 is weak, but it is better than nothing.
The Kyoto Protocol will continue, though it will cover less global greenhouse gas emissions than before. The elements created within the Protocol, however, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, will remain.
In Durban a new timetable has been accepted for negotiations on a comprehensive climate change agreement covering practically all countries. The negotiations are to be completed by 2015, in four years’ time.
A similar timetable was agreed in Bali in 2007, and the new agreement should have been achieved in Copenhagen in 2009. But still in Durban, in 2011, sufficient political will has yet to be found. The hope is that enough accumulates by 2015.
The EU has been the most dutiful party in climate negotiations. However, with its non-growing population and an increasing proportion of the energy-intensive products it needs purchased beyond EU borders, reducing emissions is easier for the EU than for others.
Finland is an exceptional country within the European Union. Finland has a disproportionate high share of energy-intensive industries based on Finnish natural resources and industrial history. However, a structural change is shaking now this part of the industry.
Ordinary people are increasingly interested in reducing emissions and demanding environmentally friendly products, while companies are commissioning estimates of the carbon footprint of their products, as well as seeking to reduce their emissions.
In Europe, the time of industry based on cheap raw material, energy and labour is over. Europe will drop out of economic competition based on cheapness of production factors. It shall base the future on knowledge and skills instead of the lowest prices. In this respect citizens and businesses are progressing faster than governments towards a low carbon society.
Research is also progressing on a broad front. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is analyzing and summarizing thousands of scientific publications on climate change.
The outcome of this large process will be published as the IPCC 5th assessment report. The volume on the scientific basis should be completed in 2013, followed in 2014 by volumes on the impacts of climate change and on mitigation measures. An important contribution to the volume on mitigation will be made by the recent IPCC Special Report on renewable energy published in 2011.
The despair of researchers over the implementation of emission reductions is illustrated by the assessment report containing an examination of the possibilities for reflecting incoming solar radiation, for example by using particles injected in the upper atmosphere. A number of studies have recently been completed on this topic.
Several new studies suggest even more worrying impacts of carbon dioxide emissions.
The carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere is not only changing the Earth's climate but acidifying its oceans. If global emissions continue to increase, the sea water in both Arctic Ocean and Southern Ocean will be acidic enough within a few decades to dissolve the calcareous shells of crust organisms.
*Professor Savolainen is working at the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) and has long experience in system studies on energy and climate change mitigation. Savolainen is among others an invited Lead Author of the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy and Climate Change and Expert Member of Finland’s Delegation for the Climate Negotiations.
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